Budget showdown could put Connecticut House delegation in a tight spot

Washington – It was easy for the members of Connecticut’s House delegation, all Democrats,  to vote against a bill Thursday that would avert a government shutdown for a few months, but defund Obamacare.

But their next vote on the budget won’t be as easy.

That’s because the lawmakers may have to eventually decide whether to vote for a bill that leaves Obamacare alone, but continues the so-called “sequester” spending cuts that threaten the state’s defense industry and nick many social programs.

“I think it’s going to be a very tough moment for us,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. 

House Republicans Friday voted on a continuing resolution that would fund the government until Dec. 15, giving lawmakers more time to work on a budget. But the resolution would also defund the Affordable Care Act, and the Democratic–controlled Senate won’t have it.

So unless Congress agrees on a way to keep funding it — a prospect partisan fighting seems to have made impossible — the federal government will have to shut down most of its operations Oct. 1.  

“Any House bill that defunds Obamacare is dead,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said at a press briefing Thursday.

That leaves Congress in gridlock, which more and more seems to be its normal state.

Since the Senate is expected to strip out the Affordable Care Act provision before it votes on the continuing resolution next week and sends it back to the House, the question becomes what comes next.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, must decide whether to schedule a vote on that Senate bill — or more likely a compromise that would include some spending cuts the Senate now opposes — and hope a bipartisan group of House members, including some Connecticut lawmakers, votes for it. Or Boehner could reject the notion of any compromise with the Senate and allow the government to shut down.

That means that all federal programs, except entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, military operations and other national security functions, would lose their funding and suspend operations.

The looming prospect of that possibility sent the stock market plunging Friday and left Democrats fuming.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, took to the House floor Friday to call the GOP’s strategy “cynical and misconceived” and “designed to push us out into a government shutdown.” 

DeLauro blasted the continuing resolution’s defunding of Obamacare, but focused her outrage more on the sequester cuts that would be continued in the House resolution, especially those to social and medical research programs.

“I’m a cancer survivor,” said DeLauro, who years ago suffered from ovarian cancer. “The grace of God and biomedical research allows me to stand here.”

DeLauro may find it impossible to vote for any compromise that includes budget cuts.

But not Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, who said the House budget resolution “will now go to the room of terrible Republican ideas.”

“I hate the sequester,” said Himes. “But I don’t want a government shutdown.”

If a modified version of the continuing resolution is up for a vote in the House next week, Courtney said he will consider its impact on Connecticut’s defense industry.

“If [the cuts] go only to December, you can certainly make an argument,” said Courtney.

That’s because defense giant Electric Boat, located in his district, is prepared for that, he said. “But if it goes beyond December, you have real problems.”

Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, has also adopted a wait-and-see approach.

“We’ll see what it looks like,” he said.

Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, is also undecided at this point.

“I’ve got to look at where those numbers are,” she said.

There’s another scenario that’s possible, said Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution. Boehner may eventually agree to a compromise and ask Democrats to help it pass.

“But possibly not before the government has shut down a while,” Mann said.

Courtney said it’s difficult to know what the next step in the drama will be.

“People will just settle in for a long ride,” he said.

Meanwhile, House members like Courtney, who was slated to travel to Australia on a trade mission, scrapped plans for next week, which had been scheduled as a recess. They will be back in Washingotn on Wednesday instead.

And Democrats will use the time to pressure the GOP, which has been burned in previous government shutdowns, by advertising the impact of a locked-down federal government.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., for instance, plans to hold a town hall meeting in Farmington “to discuss what a shutdown of the federal government could mean for people in Connecticut and how it would impact their daily lives.”

 

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